As a fan of comic books, I love really great panels. Sure, splash pages make a big impact, but a panel can have a large impact on your reading experience, without taking up as much real estate. What makes a panel great? Well, it has to be something that when you look at it, when you read it, you just stop and go Wow. It can be a dramatic moment or a hilarious moment. And exciting moment or a sad moment. Just something that stands out to you. I came across one of these panels recently while reading the first chapter of Dark Tower – The Gunslinger: The Battle of Tull, written by Robin Furth and Peter David, art by Michael Lark and Richard Isanove.
Just look at this panel. The character detail makes it utterly revolting. That is a man you do not want to run into anywhere. You can see the madness in the eyes. The unkempt hair and tattered clothing tells you that this is not a man concerned with personal upkeep. Then, he’s got something green around his mouth. You may not know what that is, but if it has stained his beard, combined with the madness in his eyes, it can’t be a good thing. So, before even getting to the narration in this panel, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what this guy is like. I bet you even have a voice for him.
The first box speaks of the odor of the devil grass being a rank miasma. Now this crazy old man has an odor. An unhealthy odor. Here’s writing the writing can enhance the visual experience. Sure, the writer could just say that the guy stank, but that word usage is pretty bland. By using miasma, it notifies that this is something that goes beyond a simple stench. Sure, they mean the same thing, but using a less common word has the power to make this moment seem like it is something more.
The next two boxes confirm what we saw in the eyes. “Sees but does not see” is a great way of saying that this guy hallucinates, and it is beyond his control. Now you have a picture of this man, has not lived a good life in quite some time, if ever. He’s gone mad, and will share his madness with everyone around him. Interacting with this man seems like an all-around terrible experience.
And that is the power of a great panel. In less than a third of the page, we have all of this information about a character we had never met before, and still don’t even know his name. With just this panel, we can imagine what interacting with this guy would be like, and it does not seem pleasant at all.